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The Lonely Halloween

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“Molly, dear, you’ve absolutely outdone yourself this year,” said Arthur gazing at the sight before him.

He was standing behind his wife in their garden, watching her put the finishing touches on one of a baker’s dozen freshly carved jack-o-lanterns, most of which she had stacked neatly by the back door.

He loved to watch her work; though she never believed him when he told her, he thought his wife was a real artist. “Oh, it’s just a sweater,” she’d say, or, “it’s just iced biscuits,” or, every year on Halloween, “they’re just pumpkins.”

But they weren’t just pumpkins. In four of the pumpkins, she’d carved a few traditional jack-o-lantern faces—a toothy grin, an evil-looking smirk. But into the rest, she’d carved nine portraits: one for herself, her husband, and one for each of their seven children. Using just her wand, she’d used a combination of deep and shallow cuts to craft masterful likenesses of their beautiful family.

Molly made one last flick with her wand, and the portrait of their youngest, Ginny, was complete. She wiped some sweat off her brow with the back of her wrist and leaned backward into her husband.

“I was afraid we’d get lonely,” she told him.

Arthur wrapped his arms around her and squeezed gently. “It has been a bit quieter this Halloween,” he said.

Molly heaved out a small sigh. “Ever since September first.”

Every September for the last ten years had been difficult, but Arthur thought this one had been the hardest. It was never easy, putting their kids onto the Hogwarts Express, but this year, waving goodbye to their youngest—it had been particularly brutal.

Arthur kissed the top of Molly’s head and then pulled away. “Here, Molly, dear. Let me help you set them out. Wingardium—

“Wait, Arthur—shh,” said Molly, placing a hand on Arthur’s wand arm. “I think I hear someone.”

They both held their breath for a moment, and sure enough, Arthur could hear the sound of two young voices coming down the winding dirt lane toward the Burrow.

The Weasleys hardly ever received visitors, much less any that approached them from the lane. Most callers used the Floo Network, or, if they were close friends or family, apparated into the apple orchard and approached the house from the rear.

As for Muggles, well, the Burrow’s Muggle-repelling charm kept most of the villagers from Ottery St. Catchpole from investigating the Burrow too deeply.  Sometimes, though, it didn’t quite know what to do with Muggle children, whose capacity for believing in magic was much greater than their parents’. Not to mention the occasional Muggle-born child who would later or was perhaps already manifesting magic of their own.

And so, when Molly and Arthur peered over the garden fence and spied two young children making their way toward the Burrow’s front door, they simply grinned, made their way inside, and waited for the knock.

Except, it didn’t come.

From outside, they could hear hushed voices.

“You do it,” said one.

“No, you,” said the other.

“No way.”

“But it was your idea.”

There was a short silence, and then a very quiet, very timid knock.

Arthur opened the door, while Molly stood close behind.

On the front step stood the two children—judging by their heights, Arthur guessed they were between seven and nine. The elder was dressed in a long gray robe, holding a big wooden stick almost as tall as they were, with a great, long, white beard held onto their face with a small white string. The younger was dressed in what looked a bit like pajamas—a matching white top and bottom with thin, horizontal navy stripes. Their long brown hair was pulled through the back of a blue cap with a stylized NY on the front.

“Trick-or-treat,” chorused the children, holding out two bright orange sacks already halfway filled with sweets.

“Well hullo,” said Arthur, while Molly turned back into the house to retrieve the appropriate comestibles. These two were not their first trick-or-treaters, despite their rare appearance at the Burrow. By now, they knew enough Muggle protocol to avoid turning sad-faced children away empty-handed. “Who do we have here?”

“I’m a wizard,” said the taller child, proudly brandishing their stick.

“A wizard?” said Arthur. “Where’s your wand?”

“A wand?!” protested the young wizard. “Only witches use wands. I’m not a witch!”

Arthur raised his eyebrows and folded his arms across his chest. “Is there something wrong with being a witch?” he asked.

The child looked at Arthur witheringly.

“Witches are old and ugly and mean,” they said.

“Oh, really?” asked Arthur. “Have you ever met one?”

“’Course not,” said the child. “They ain’t real, are they?”

“Well, what about wizards, then?” Arthur asked. He knew he shouldn’t be antagonizing the child, but there was something about their sneer—and the wide, attentive eyes of the younger child—that kept him going.

“Well, they ain’t real either, are they?”

Arthur shrugged. “Then why choose one over the other?”

“Because wizards are cool,” said the child. “They’re good, and they’re powerful, and they help protect the land from evil,” they said, heaving their giant stick in the air in triumph. “Witches are ugly and mean and evil. And besides, witches are all g—” They cut off their own speech and cut their eyes toward the younger trick-or-treater.

Arthur raised his eyebrows, and then he shrugged. “All of the witches I’ve ever met have been good ones,” he said. He supposed it was technically a lie—he’d never been a fan of Narcissa Malfoy, for example—but the child didn’t have to know that. He turned to the younger child. “And who might you be?” he asked.

They looked up at him shyly. “I’m Babe Ruth,” they said, grinning, “the greatest baseball player of all time.”

Arthur wasn’t sure what either a Baby Ruth or a baseball was, but something about the child reminded him of his youngest, so he just smiled and nodded. He said, “Of course! How silly of me.”

Just then, Molly returned with a platter stacked high with homemade cauldron cakes. “Here you are, dears,” she said. “Take as many as you’d like.”

The young wizard reached out eagerly, but Arthur noticed Baby Ruth’s face drop in disappointment.

He grabbed one himself and took a bite, spilling a bit of icing sugar down the front of his hand-knitted sweater vest. “You don’t want to miss these, kids,” he said. “They’re better than anything you can buy in a shop.”

The baseball player’s frowned deepened. “But mum says I’m not supposed to take anything that’s not wrapped. It might have something bad in it,” they said, not meeting Arthur’s or Molly’s eyes.

“Like what?” asked the wizard through a mouthful of cake.

The baseball player shrugged. “I dunno. Sultanas, maybe?”

A high chirp of a laugh escaped Molly’s lips. “No sultanas in these cakes, love. Promise.”

The wizard, who was already on their second cauldron cake, rolled their eyes. “Bad stuff in Halloween treats is just and urbend legion. Go on, then. They’re delicious.”

Molly beamed. “Thanks very much,” she said to the wizard, and then turned to the baseball player. “but you don’t have to take one if you don’t want it. Arthur, go see if that tin of custard creams is still unopened.”

Arthur turned to go into the house, but the little trick-or-treater quickly said, “No, that’s all right. I’d like one of these, thanks.”

They took one by the thumb and middle finger and bit into it gingerly. They chewed for a moment, and then their eyes lit up. “Oh, wow,” they said. “Thanks so much!”

Molly winked at the kids, and then said, “Let me wrap up a few for you to take with you.”

Once she had returned with two small mountains of cakes wrapped in brown paper, the children expressed their gratitude and delight through sticky smiles and grubby hands waving goodbye.

Arthur put his arms around Molly’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head. They both stayed in the doorway for a few moments, gazing up at the waxing crescent moon glowing softly in the star-scattered sky. “Well, Molly, my dear, we’ve the house to ourselves now. What shall we do this on fine Halloween evening?”

“Well,” said Molly, turning toward him and wiping some of the icing sugar off his chest. “I have a few things in mind.” And then she rose up onto her toes and kissed him, deep and slow.

When they broke apart, Arthur grinned down at her and motioned toward the open front door. “After you, Mollywobbles,” he said quietly.

She smiled and blushed, took his hand, and led him inside the Burrow.

Despite their earlier fears, neither Arthur nor Molly felt lonely on that particular Halloween night.